This paper reviews our work on the fabrication of photobiochemical hybrid materials via immobilisation of photosynthetically active entities within silica materials, summarising the viability and productivity of these active entities post encapsulation and evaluating their efficiency as the principal component of a photobioreactor. Immobilisation of thylakoids extracted from spinach leaves as well as whole cells such as A. thaliana, Synechococcus and C. caldarium was carried out in situ using sol-gel methods. In particular, a comprehensive overview is given of the efforts to find the most biocompatible inorganic precursors that can extend the lifetime of the organisms upon encapsulation. The effect of matrix-cell interactions on cell lifetime and the photosynthetic efficiency of the resultant materials are discussed. Precursors based on alkoxides, commonly used in "Chimie Douce" to form porous silica gel, release by-products which are often cytotoxic. However by controlling the formation of gels from aqueous silica precursors and silica nanoparticles acting as "cements" one can significantly enhance the life span of the entrapped organelles and cells. Adapted characteristic techniques have shown survival times of up to 5 months with the photosynthetic production of oxygen recorded as much as 17 weeks post immobilisation. These results constitute a significant advance towards the final goal, long-lasting semi-artificial photobioreactors that can advantageously exploit solar radiation to convert polluting carbon dioxide into useful biofuels, sugars or medical metabolites.
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